The new 2008 year has been ushered in with a vacation trip to Bangkok and its environs. The trip was decided with DK 4 weeks before the designated departure date. It is a long delayed trip as we have plans to visit Bangkok 2.5 years back as our graduation trip. But due to work commitments, I have to keep pushing back my personal overseas vacation plan till this period, which coincides with the end of a project responsibility cycle. As I have quite a number of days leave to clear from the previous 2 years, it was cleared at one shot in the first 2 weeks of January 2008.
The trip to Bangkok is somewhat special. Cos from what I have enquire from my friends who have visited Bangkok, most of their activities are centred around shopping or spa massage. Whereas our current trip had a greater focus on sightseeing, which includes the 3 outlying cities of antiquity - Ayutthaya, Lopburi and Nakhom Pathom.
Ayutthaya is the capital city of the Ayutthaya dynasty. There are 3 dynasties in the history of Thailand: Sukhothai, Ayutthaya and Chakri (current). We have the opportunity to explore the Ayutthaya and Chakri cultural history in this trip. It is great fun studying the people and culture that shapes the history of Thailand during this period. Nothing beats being there to view and appreciate these great empires of the past.
In this summary posting for Thailand, I am not only going to share the best sights I have visited, but also to explore the Buddhist practices which I find capitivating in Thailand.
Buddhist Practices in the temples
The most basic offerings to temples or shrines in Thai temples are flowers, incense and candles. Devotees don't actually have to buy the offerings as they are readily available from the temple grounds. But there will be a donation box nearby where devotees normally pop-in a 20Baht amount as an offering. This is inline with the Buddhist spirit of free-giving. The photo below is from the Erawan Shrine which features the three most common offerings of flowers, incense and candles. Offering of candles are quite a challenge as you have to try to ensure it stick and not topple over.
It will be nice to understand the significance of these offerings. When making offerings of flowers, we should contemplate on impermanence. When the flowers are first offered they are fragrant and beautiful but it will eventually fade and discoloured overtime. When an incense is lit, the place will be filled with fragrant smell, and in turn should reminds us of keeping our virtue and upholding Good Conduct. Light symbolises wisdom which as fellow Buddhists should strive towards enlightenment which will dispel all ignorance.
The offering of gold to Buddha images is what I find unique to the Thai culture. The gold paper will normally be inserted between the incense when we first receive the offerings. After making the offerings of incense, candles and flowers, devotees can stick the gold paper onto the Buddha image.
The next kind of offering is the pouring of oil into the oil lamp. The photo below shows devotees pouring oil into the lamps.
Here we have the making of material offerings to the alms bowl. Normally we will also pop-in a 20Baht donation and get a small bowl full of half a baht coins. We will then place the coins into all the alms bowl. This practice helps train the parami of generosity and emphasis is placed on the action and thought of giving frequently.
And finally for well-to-do devotees, they can offer Buddha images to the temples. Like the many Buddha images seen below, they are donated by devotees, families or companies for merit making.
There are also many more offerings. While at Jim Thompson house's weaving museum, it is said the greatest merit one can make is when a member of the family become ordained as a monk.
Best of Central Thailand 2008
Bangkok Grand Palace is truly a Land of Gold
Wat Pho, giant reclining Buddha
Sunset at Wat Arun
Ring-side spectacle of Muay Thai at Ratchadamnoen Stadium
Erawan Shrine, a shrine in the city heart
Jim Thompson's house, Thai architecture from a foreigner's perspective
European-style palace at Dusit Park
Tuk tuk experience at Ayutthaya
Archaeological studies of Ayutthaya ruins
Monkey land of Lopburi
Largest chedi (stupa) in Thailand
My total expenditure for this trip is S$750. Of which $400 is spent on airlines and accommodations. $120 is spent on traditional Thai foot massage, body massage and spa. While $80 is spent on the Muay Thai match. The remaining $150 is spent on transport, food, shopping and other miscellaneous stuff. Comparatively, my spending for this trip is somewhat extravagant. But it is definitely quite a complete 5-day Thai experience. A well-plan trip with a good buddy is indeed many times better than going for package tour.